Many of you continue to sit in long lines trying to crawl along the M50 with thousands of other commuters. My cage rattling has obviously had some effect as they are about to remove the toll plaza that causes such frustration but they seem to have missed the point completely. They aren’t about to ease the suffering of the motorist commuter, prices are set to rise and fines introduced! Infuriated, I raised this in a special adjournment debate.
I raised the issue of the M50 and the degree of ministerial responsibility on the setting of the tolls when and if they are implemented in August. The Minister will be well aware that there was a campaign to open the old toll bridge on the M50 to remove the tolls and barriers. A politically driven decision was taken approximately 18 months ago that this should happen in August this year and that the tolls should be taken electronically. It worries me that one monopoly has been replaced by another tyranny. A private monopoly has been replaced by a public monopoly. I want to elicit from the Minister what role he will play after August when electronic tolling is introduced. This is an opportunity for the Government to play the kind of detached role it likes to play by saying a semi-State agency, the NRA, is in charge and that it is nothing to do with the Government. When it is convenient the Government can claim credit for things State agencies do well but when it is not the Government can step back and say the NRA is an agency with a certain degree of independence.
I would like the Minister to say whether he considers the toll too high and what the NRA has already done monopolistic. We have had the imposition of a €2 toll at a certain point on the M50 and it was believed that would be the toll for the current year. However I gather that in August, due to a spontaneous decision by the NRA, those tolls will rise again. The rises are outrageous. Some regular drivers who get the right tag will still pay €2; other categories of drivers, including those who pre-register and travel casually, will have their tolls raised by 50 cent in one case and €1 in another. This is for an individual, ordinary motorist travelling through there. Those are 25% and 50% rises, which are unforgivable and impossible to justify, particularly as they crucify the same motorists who have been crucified for many years and who get no return on it.
I appeal to the Minister to tell us what he intends to do about this. The procedure in place for an appeal against these types of imposed tolls was triggered last December. When the increases were announced the National Consumer Agency, NCA, another Government agency without much clout, appealed against them. The NCA appealed to a person appointed by the NRA. Therefore, a Government agency appealed against price rises by another Government agency, but the appeals arbitrator was appointed by one of the parties involved. That is in the legislation and that is the NRA’s defence. It is completely unjust that one of the parties involved should appoint the adjudicator. I would like to hear the Minister’s views on that and whether he can move in and do something to reduce these tolls, restrict the activities of the NRA and cut it down to size and ensure there is an appeals procedure that has credibility. The result of that appeal, as the Minister knows, was that the NRA won game, set and match. I suggest that this was not unpredictable in the circumstances.
If tolls are to be imposed on the M50 and other roads, will the Minister ensure they are imposed fairly? The toll point for electronic tolling on the M50 is exactly the same, give or take 100 yards or so, as was used — and is still being used today — for manual West Link tolling. Why should those who go through that point subsidise the trips of others who do not go through it but use large stretches of the motorway? One can go from Bray to the turn-off to Naas and further without paying anything, but if one goes through that point one will have to pay €2, €2.50 or €3, which will be the new tolls from August. I ask the Minister of State to explain the role the Minister will have in this, what he will do about these outrageous tolls and what powers he will have in the future.